A background check, also known as a background screening, is a process where employers use a third-party system to review a job applicant’s history.
The sources used to build a background report often include public records, law enforcement, credit bureaus, and previous employers.
A pre-employment screening process enables your human resources team to gather information about whether a candidate would be a good fit for your job environment. Additionally, performing background checks minimizes risk with new hires.
Types of background checks
There are multiple kinds of background reports that you can use to identify and verify information about job candidates. The most commonly used background checks include criminal history, employment history, and other specific checks.
Criminal background checks
One of the most commonly used background checks is the criminal background check. These reports flag any existing local, statewide, federal, and national criminal record for a candidate.
On top of discovering any criminal activity or criminal convictions, criminal background reports may show whether a person is on a sex offender registry or terrorist watch list (like the FBI most wanted or the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s No Fly List). If you hire global employees, running an international crime check would also be beneficial.
A person’s past isn’t necessarily their future, but it’s important to know who you’re working with, especially if your organization works with vulnerable people or handles sensitive information.
Employment background checks
Employment background checks are used to verify someone is who they say they are and the information on their resume and application is accurate.
These reports pull basic information like identity, address, employment history, and education history. The background check process typically includes gaining employment verification, performing reference checks, talking to former employers about the person’s work history, and confirming dates of employment.
In some cases, businesses will perform an education verification check to make sure the candidate received a degree in the field stated. This prevents companies from hiring someone who’s not actually qualified for the job.
Other background checks
Depending on your company, you may also want to pull some specific background reports. Other common types of background checks include:
- Motor vehicle records check: Reviews a person’s driving records, including date of license issue and expiration, license status, driving restrictions, special licenses, license points/suspensions/violations, and vehicular crimes
- Professional licenses check: Verifies that a person holds a certain professional license
- Credit check: Uses a credit report to look up a person’s credit history, debt, loans, and mortgages
- Social media check: Evaluates what a person posts on online platforms (you can learn a lot about a person based on what they share on social media, but beware of potential discrimination issues)
- Drug tests: Checks for illegal substance use
What does a background check consist of?
To perform a background check, you’ll need the following candidate information:
- Full name
- Date of birth
- Current and/or past addresses
- Social Security number (for US candidates)
- Written consent
Then, you’ll use a background check company, consumer reporting agency, or another resource to compile the information you’re looking for.
At that point, the background check will verify identity, social security, past residences, and past employment. Then the checker will begin digging for the information you’ve asked them to find.
When are background checks used?
Background checks are typically used in the hiring process to prevent negligent hiring. Pre-employment background checks are usually performed after you provide a candidate with a job offer.
Once they accept, you need to gain their consent to run a background check. In the US, you need to get the new hire’s consent in writing in a standalone document, according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and various state laws.
The candidate can refuse to give you consent, but you don’t have to give them the job if they don’t let you perform the background check.
Depending on what you find in the background report, you may choose not to hire the individual. If you decide to take adverse action against a candidate because of the background report, you may want to hire legal counsel before moving forward.
However, it’s crucial to ensure background reporting and hiring practices are non-discriminatory. For US employers, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is an excellent resource for background check best practices.
Why are background checks important?
Background checks are important because they enable you to feel confident in your hiring decisions.
While we’d love to believe John Doe got a degree in mechanical engineering from Harvard because it was on his resume, isn’t it better to perform a quick background check instead of realizing that he doesn’t know the first thing about mechanical engineering on his first day?
Background checks give you peace of mind that you’re hiring the most qualified person for the job. On top of that, it promotes an environment of trust and transparency between the employer and the new employee.
Most companies also use background checks to maintain the safety and overall quality of their team. Your workers will feel more at ease and feel like they can trust you.
Background checks are also helpful for small businesses that would be crippled by a wrongful termination lawsuit if they didn’t do their due diligence for a candidate before bringing them on the team.